“Narco” emotions: Affect and desensitization in social media during the Mexican drug war

De Choudhury, M., Monroy-Hernández, A., & Mark, G. (2014). “Narco” emotions: Affect and desensitization in social media during the Mexican drug war. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 3563–3572.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1145/2556288.2557197

Open access: No

Notes: In this paper, the authors of this study explore the relationship between affective desensitization to violence and social media use. They locate their study in the context of the Mexican Drug War. Overall, they found “a significant link between exposure to violence due to the ongoing urban warfare in Mexico, and anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptomatology gleaned from social media” (p. 3564). This study thus presents significant findings highlighting the affective desensitization to violence in and through social media platforms.

Abstract: Social media platforms have emerged as prominent information sharing ecosystems in the context of a variety of recent crises, ranging from mass emergencies, to wars and political conflicts. We study affective responses in social media and how they might indicate desensitization to violence experienced in communities embroiled in an armed conflict. Specifically, we examine three established affect measures: negative affect, activation, and dominance as observed on Twitter in relation to a number of statistics on protracted violence in four major cities afflicted by the Mexican Drug War. During a two year period (Aug 2010 – Dec 2012), while violence was on the rise in these regions, our findings show a decline in negative emotional expression as well as a rise in emotional arousal and dominance in Twitter posts: aspects known to be psychological markers of desensitization. We discuss the implications of our work for behavioral health, facilitating rehabilitation efforts in communities enmeshed in an acute and persistent urban warfare, and the impact on civic engagement.

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